Article by Kate Lahey

One of the first events of Lawnya Vawnya 2016 was Breaking Barriers: Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities for Women in Today’s Music Industry. 

A point that kept circulating amongst the panellist was the importance of role models for them as musicians or industry folk, and particularly in facing the unique challenges that they face as women in the music industry.

The host of the event, Mara Pellerin, was quick to point out that women of colour and trans women experience further challenges and disproportionate limitations in the music industry. I asked the panel how new musicians like myself, who often make music alone in their bedroom instead of jamming with the guys in a garage, can learn practical skills, whether it be an instrument, tech work, management knowledge, etc.

Joanna Barker, Michelle Robertson, Charlotte Day Wilson, Mara Pellerin, Julie Doiron, and Sarah Kirkpatrick of the panel, and Jennifer Castle in the audience, all had distinct answers that responded to their individual and diverse experiences learning and growing as musicians, managers, community members, board members, producers and workers in the music industry.

Kicking the festival off with a panel that explored the personal experiences of women in music got me stoked on getting to meet new role models, connect with old ones and feel like I belonged in music. Here are some of the things I learned from role models, new and old, at Lawnya Vawnya 2016.

In response to my question at the Breaking Barriers panel, Sarah Kirkpatrick of Catl talked about how after two drummers left their band she decided to pick up the sticks and learn to drum. She also takes on a management role and, as proven at their Saturday pop up show at the Black Sheep, tells the best jokes. (Why don’t we play poker in the jungle? Too many cheetahs.) Sarah said pushing herself into new things has been a big part of thriving as a musician.

Charlotte Day Wilson responded by noting that she thrives on a challenge. Growing up playing sports, I could also relate to challenge being a great motivator and push into new territory.

Michelle Robertson looked me in the eye and said, “don’t be afraid to go out there and get what you want.” Oh, and “leverage your network!”

Joanna Barker, a major role model for me in St. John’s, represented the amazing Girls Rock Camp, which is starting up this year. Women in the music industry coming together to imagine spaces, events, and programs that inspire, teach and empower women in music is a must.

Julie Doiron spoke about her experience making music from a young age with Eric’s Trip and how surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself, empower your visions, and positively impact you and your work have been paramount to her confidence, development, and life as a musician. Allies are important.

I was so glad that Jennifer Castle also responded from the audience by saying, sometimes its okay to stay in your bedroom and make music, if you’re fortunate enough to have that private space. We don’t all have to perform, you don’t have to release or complete everything you work on. Creativity does not need to be wrangled into a producible or presentable product, but can be a source of life and revival for women everywhere.

Braids showed me the power of your own voice. I mean I was blown away hearing and learning from a live performance of music that I don’t get to see every Saturday night at The Rockhouse.

But I was also enthralled with how music can be a platform for the things you want to say. I’m thinking about the comfort we find in stuffed animals and “Mini Skirt” off their LP Deep in the Iris. Austin Tufts from Braids was also a guest on Long Night with Vish Khanna at the Rocket Room on Saturday and reminded me about the ways in which personal connection can be one of the strongest and most inspiring threads of humanity.

Raphaelle Standell-Preston also showed me how to balance being kind and compassionate while standing up for what you need to perform and make your music. Don’t bite your tongue.

Julie Doiron’s performance at Rocket Room on Saturday night with Charlotte Day Wilson showed me a beautiful fact about music which is when you fuck up, you just keep going. Julie quipped “I’m gunna nail it on the next one.”

Simone from Toronto-based band Fake Palms and Sarah from Catl inspired me to push out into picking up new things, instruments, skills, spaces. As Charlotte Day Wilson noted, it’s never to late to pick up an instrument. Learning can sometimes be as simple as swapping skills with a friend

Jennifer Castle taught me about heavy poetry.

All of these women performing, contributing to and organizing (looking at Andrea and Chrissy) Lawnya Vawnya 2016 reminded me that I never really felt like I could or was allowed or would be invited to play music until I saw women doing it.

I grew up listening to male-dominated bands, reading male poets, and seeing male performers. When you can relate pieces of yourself to the people who are making music, it empowers you to dream about the possibilities within yourself.

Role models defy the borders that limit the imaginative possibilities of our own potential and inspire us to speak truth to power, to take risks, to love what you do, to use our voices, to tell our stories or to just have fun making things with our friends.